After Ehud died, the Israelites screwed it up with God again. So God let King Jabin sack them. He was a Canaanite whose capital was Hazor, and Sisera commanded the king’s army from his home in Heathen Rift.
The Israelites cried to God for help, because Sisera had 900 iron chariots, and was a cruel oppressor for 20 years.
In those days there was a truth-teller named Deborah (she was married to Lappidoth), who was Israel’s arbitrator. She held court under her palm tree in the hill country of Ephraim, between Hightown and Godhomeville, and Israelites came to her there to have their cases arbitrated. She issued a summons for Barak Abinoam, who lived in the hallowed place in Naphtali, as follows:
By this summons, know that God, the God of Israel, commands you to gather 10,000 soldiers from Naphtali and Zebulun. I’ll bait Jabin’s commander Sisera to bring his chariots against you at the Snare River, and together we’ll rout him.
In this passage, the lectionary gives us only the background and Deborah’s proposal. The rest of chapter 4 is full of blood and gore, ending with a tent-peg being driven through Sisera’s head.
In its entirety, the story is witness to the way oppressive ruthless tyrants tend to come to ruthless violent ends. Call it the summons of God. Call it karma. Jesus would later say, those who live by the sword shall die by it. We need look only the the events of the past month in Libya to know that it’s as true today as it was before King David.
But the excerpt here is also important. 20 years is a long time to suffer under oppression. An entire generation. And the end of any tyrant’s reign starts with someone, maybe just one person, who finally decides enough is enough.
Don’t think for a minute, though, that Deborah started arbitrating cases under her tree until after she’d arranged the nation’s freedom. It was her initiative when she was a nobody, just “married to Lappidoth,” that gave her the authority to start handing down verdicts. In a thoroughly oppressed nation, no dictator is going to let an “uppity woman” be a leader of the people. In a thoroughly patriarchal society, no woman could rise to become the people’s arbiter. And yet, this housewife, rather than the would-be general, Barak, is the one to finally give voice to God’s liberating intention. And the trap works because Sisera expected Barak to do it.
And so it goes. The person who speaks and acts for God isn’t always the person you’d expect. More often, it’s someone you’d never guess.
The upshot: you don’t have to be “somebody” to be the one to take the initiative to change something that’s wrong. Nobody’s going to give you the authority. You have to claim it for your own. Why can’t “somebody” be you?